Boxing did not, after all, eat itself this past weekend. Thrilling fights and thrilling moments came like slot machine pings one after the other Saturday, sounding in places both expected and unexpected, keeping boxing fans feeling like they were living in a near-constant state of jackpot. Two shows on two rival channels by two rival promoters weren’t expected to pack two houses in Vegas just down the street from one another, but pack them they did.
That doesn’t mean boxing wasn’t already gnawing on its own leg, though. For all the “what makes boxing great” material we got, I don’t think the concurrent shows helped each other by being concurrent. We’d have gotten the same thrills, only spread out over two weekends, if they hadn’t competed. More people could’ve seen both live. Everyone would’ve made more money. In other words, don’t take the lack of a disastrous sinkhole from this one weekend as an excuse to get atheistic about the ongoing autosarcophagy. This weekend was a symptom of the disease — a Berlin Wall erected right in the middle of the sport between Top Rank and Golden Boy Promotions — rather than a death knell averted.
Sorry to be a bummer. Hey, look up there, Sergio Martinez-Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. round 12! Marcos Maidana-Jesus Soto Karass! And there was more besides. A lot more. That’s the purpose of Weekend Afterthoughts: to contemplate weekends such as this, with it mostly having soaked in by now so as to give us the benefit of perspective. We’ll start with the Top Rank/HBO card, then move on to the Golden Boy/Showtime one.
Before you venture further, though: Mark Ortega and Patrick Connor delivered some heroic efforts from Las Vegas with weekend reports, under sometimes trying logistical circumstances. Check out Patrick on the Showtime card, and on the undercard, too; and then Mark on the HBO card, the undercard and an ESPN2 card. (While you’re at it, don’t miss Andrew Harrison’s British Beat round-up, or my Round And Round, or my take on Manny Pacquiao’s next fight, or my Quick Jabs, also from the weekend.)
- Martinez-Chavez. As I was unable to attend or watch the fight live, I experienced it differently than others: via Twitter updates. Round after round, as I fended off sleep, I kept saying to myself, “Just go ahead and close your eyes. Everyone thinks Martinez has it in the in the bag.” Then I kept saying back, “Anything can happen, and Chavez will be dangerous late.” I actually laughed when the tweets of shock, terror and elation came in the 12th round, after Chavez dropped and hurt Martinez badly. Watching the replay, I saw signs of it coming that I might not otherwise have looked for, as Martinez was thrown to the ground in the 10th and was extremely slow to rise. But it was a masterclass, with a twist ending. The “almost” Chavez, Sr.-Meldrick Taylor comparisons are somewhat apt, but “almost” Billy Conn-Joe Louis, as suggested in the comments by Mike Ricciardelli, might be more apt, because unlike with Senior vs. Taylor, Louis wasn’t dishing out a slow, systematic beating and Conn could’ve coasted to a victory if not for being aggressive for the sake of it. Martinez didn’t have to keep the aggression up based on merit, so maybe he was worried about bunk judging if he didn’t. Martinez, the middleweight champ, was magical in there, doing things like leaning forward with both his hands way down then lunging forward with an uppercut, and constantly moving in both directions after landing to make it impossible for Chavez to find him. Chavez summoned his own kind of necromancy in that 12th round, and the result was special, a strong Round of the Year contender. For a fight with so much bad blood coming in, it ended with both sides giving the other a grudging measure of respect, both in public remarks and in tiny moments like Martinez offering Chavez a squirt from his water bottle in the HBO post-fight interview.
- Next for Martinez and Chavez. There is talk of a rematch at Cowboys Stadium, which would be huge, and welcome. I’m in the bullish crowd that thinks this fight will near 500,000 pay-per-view buys, and that the rematch would do the same or better. Would it go any differently in the ring? Martinez might not be the same after this, as he tore ligaments in his knee, broke a hand, has two staples in his head, and probably suffered a sprained back, herniated left eye, punctured neck and slipped elbow, too. (h/t on semi-stolen joke: @hanslanda0351) Wonder when all that happened — no reports seem to answer that question. In basketball, nasty knee injuries aren’t the career killer they once were due to improved treatment, but we don’t know how a 37-year-old boxer who relies so heavily on his legs would fare post-surgery. If Martinez doesn’t make a 100 percent recovery, Chavez has a better chance of winning a rematch. And if Martinez can’t capitalize on the biggest moment of his career except for one more injury-caused cash-out, it will be tragic. The other question is whether Chavez will finally “get it,” after a beating and loss like that, or whether he’ll look at the last minute near-win as a validation of his unorthodox, lazy, sleep all day/hit the pads in my living room approach. Trainer Freddie Roach, by the way, said in one place he was trying to play up Chavez’s poor work habits to make Martinez overconfident, and in another place he said Chavez did indeed train poorly. I’m not sure which of these is revisionist history. Anyway, improved training would give Chavez more energy for chasing down Martinez rather than just trying to make weight, not to mention developing his defense, developing his jab, and just becoming a complete fighter, rather than one whose only strategy is “Hulk smash.” Even though that works pretty well for him as a starting point. Christ he was enormous Saturday. Looked like the Kraken from the original “Clash of the Titans.”
- Roman Martinez-Fernando Beltran, Jr. This was the second best FIGHT of the weekend, behind Maidana-Karass, not to be confused with the biggest event of the weekend (namely, Martinez-Chavez, double-namely, the 12th round of it). It gets points for being more competitive than Maidana-Karass, because it made it to the final bell and resulted in a split decision rather than a stoppage. Too bad it was marred by a debatable — not wrong, not right, just unfortunately influential — point deduction for Beltran for rabbit punching in the 11th, as otherwise the fight would’ve been a majority draw. I didn’t score the fight round by round, but might’ve leaned Beltran, or a draw, if you include the point deduction. Either way, Rocky Martinez reestablished that he’s as reliable as they come for a two-way punch-up, and Beltran established that he could hang with the class of his division, whereas previous attempts were inconclusive. The 4th of this one is in the ballpark of a Round of the Year contestant, and the fight itself is in the ballpark of a Fight of the Year nominee.
- Matthew Macklin-Joachim Alcine. As if the main event didn’t again establish Martinez’s quality, the Martinez-conquered Macklin served notice that mere defeat at the hands of the division’s undisputed champion is in no way the end of him as a fighter to be taken seriously. Yeah, he did it against Alcine, who’s a touch fragile these days, but Alcine not long ago upset David Lemieux, so it wasn’t a win that proved nothing about Macklin. There was this stretch of Martinez opponents where Martinez struggled to victories and everyone took it as a knock on Martinez’s advancing age or overratedness, but maybe people underestimated the likes of Macklin. Between this big knockout, the Martinez-Beltran war and some OK moments in the third and final undercard bout, maybe we underestimated the entertainment value of the Top Rank undercard, too.
- Guillermo Rigodeaux-Roberto Marroquin. Both junior featherweights helped themselves a little in this one, with Rigo looking vulnerable after Marroquin shook him up twice, and Marroquin showing that he wasn’t a tarnished fighter who’s ready to be cashed out just yet. But they didn’t do themselves the kind of favors they could have. Rigo had one of his “down” performances, excitement-wise, part of his pattern of ping-ponging from bout to bout between reasonably watchable fights and posefests — in one 10th round sequence, I actually counted him shifting his weight from one foot to the next while leaning forward then backward 18 times in a row before throwing a meaningful punch. Marroquin, meanwhile, gets credit for ending the fight on his feet despite suffering a couple knockdowns, but he might’ve gotten more credit by taking more risks and either winning or getting knocked out. Rigondeaux was, no doubt, making him pay for his misses, but Marroquin kept waiting for the right shot when he should’ve been throwing more if he was trying to win boldly. I can’t be too mad at him, though, because he was wearing Dr. Pepper Ten advertisements all over himself, and that stuff is delicious, and sexist. And is there a promoter in the world who knows how to promote a Cuban fighter? They just can’t seem to get enough traction to be in demand for top opposition, be it Yuriorkis Gamboa, Erislandy Lara or Rigo.
- Saul Alvarez-Josesito Lopez. In retrospect, warming up to this fight was me getting suckered. Lopez was no junior middleweight and his gunt revealed as much. Considering how often he hit Alvarez cleanly, this would’ve been a totally different fight had Lopez not been a blown up junior welterweight. I agree with Patrick: Lopez should be thought better of after this fight, not less, because he took a pounding and even in the 5th round when he was stopped, he was mounting ridiculously brave rallies. Part of me wants to give Alvarez and his team credit for first trying to fight the likes of James Kirkland or Paul Williams, but another part of me isn’t pleased that he settled for a blown-up smaller man when Austin Trout or Cornelius Bundrage or someone like that was still available. And it’s not like Lopez was clearly bringing that much more to the promotion — he’s popular with hardcore fans, but the Mexican fans were already going to be there and they actually booed Lopez, a Mexican-American. Maybe GBP knew Lopez would get the villain treatment and that would somehow help, but I can’t give them that much credit. Nonetheless, Alvarez moves on, and the talk is of a Miguel Cotto fight next year, and I’m in favor of it, even though I’m of the mind that Alvarez would’ve been better served beating one more fighter his own size who was an authentic contender. Alvarez-Cotto is guaranteed action, with the Mexican-Puerto Rican rivalry built into it and with the young gun vs. the proven veteran angle. Lopez, meanwhile, can make any number of excellent fight at 140 pounds — Lucas Matthysse, anyone?
- Daniel Ponce De Leon-Jhonny Gonzalez. The funniest moment of Saturday was the fans booing this featherweight match-up. It wasn’t a corker or anything, at least until De Leon dropped Gonzalez in the 6th, because both guys were respecting each others’ power and defending themselves astutely, making it a cautious affair. And it certainly didn’t live up to its “dark horse fight of the night” expectations. But a couple back-and-forth brawls preceding don’t buy any patience at all with the fans in attendance? Finnicky finnicky. Although I didn’t score it strictly, I was in the camp that thought it closer than the judges did, as I saw Gonzalez controlling the fight’s early portion prior to the knockdown and eventual head butt-induced technical decision. A rematch, given the ending and how things were heating up, might make some sense, but if both men want to move on to something else that’d be fine with me.
- Marcos Maidana-Jesus Soto Karass. Best fight of Saturday. It started off a bit one-sided, with Maidana looking like a whole new man under the tutelage of Robert Garcia. Caveman’s got a jab now? Caveman can COUNTER now? Garcia must be Maidana’s black monolith, and while I’m tempted to say that Maidana was so primitive prior to this display that Garcia could have taught him anything and made him look like a 25 percent better fighter, Garcia’s experience with other cavemen like Antonio Margarito and Brandon Rios never resulted in this kind of dramatic turnaround. Maidana also appears to have gotten some snap back on his punches in his second welterweight fight, because he was landing bombs and watching the crowd reactions, you knew it; against Devon Alexander, Maidana’s punches lacked thud. Yet, Karass has always been sturdy, and Maidana might have improved his defense but he’s still no defensive master. Maidana sometimes struggles with stamina, and his fouling got Karass fired up in the Round of the Year-style 4th. That’s when the fight got competitive, and that’s when it got into Fight of the Year territory. Referee Kenny Bayless stopped it too early in the 8th, I thought, as Karass was defending himself and firing back, but it was a debatable call and he erred on the side of safety, something I can’t get too worked up about. The good news for Karass is that after a lengthy slide, he reinjected some life back into his career with this perfomance.
- Leo Santa Cruz-Eric Morel. Golden Boy is moving this kid just right. Santa Cruz is a bit flat-footed, so he’ll need to learn to deal with slicksters, and feeding Santa Cruz Morel was a soft introduction to the archetype because Morel isn’t the slickster he used to be. In fact, this fight ended any notion I might’ve harbored that Morel could again be a contender at bantamweight, because he’s slowed down and never could hit very hard, so trying to slug it out won’t work, as enjoyable as it has been to watch him try in his last couple bouts. As for Santa Cruz, he gets better every fight. He’s going to be fun for years to come, and more and more, his upside could be there in the years to come, too.
- Odds and ends. Both big fight cards sold a lot of tickets, whatever people are suspecting about GBP buying some of them, and both had a decent number of giveaways… Mauro Ranallo and Paulie Malignaggi did a good job as Showtime commentators; Ranallo’s brand of enthusiasm is an upgrade from Gus Johnson’s, and Malignaggi did a respectable job of bringing the “fighter’s perspective,” something very few fighters can actually do… The Paul Williams interview by Showtime’s Jim Gray was also top-notch. I loved when P-Will said that he could be sad about being in a wheelchair, but then he’d have two problems: 1. He’d be in a wheelchair and 2. He’d be sad… This $100,000 bonus for the best knockout on the GBP/Showtime card was a nice idea, but if you’re going to make it subject to viewer votes, it’s going to go to whoever’s most popular, which is what happened with Canelo getting the bonus. Best for someone else to pick, if the idea is to motivate fighters to have a big KO. This just motivates them to be more popular… Away from the hype of the two big U.S. cards was a cruiserweight bout over in Germany that had some wild moments, particularly the 9th round, yet another Round of the Year candidate, when Yoan Pablo Hernandez and Troy Ross took turns staggering each other multiple times. I had Ross winning it narrowly (Hernandez also benefited from some dubious refereeing when he was in trouble in the 5th), but the judges saw it for Hernandez, who was sort of the hometown fighter. Sauerland, Hernandez’s promoter, said via news release they would be willing to do a rematch. Why not?